Bring It Back: Dark Cloud
If you haven’t played Dark Cloud, I pity you. It was released for the PlayStation 2 in 2001 (in America) and was considered one of the best-looking PS2 games at the time. Level 5 developed the game and Sony published it. Apparently, Dark Cloud was planned to be a launch title for the PS2, but for some reason didn’t make the deadline. The game was showcased a couple of times to illustrate the PS2’s power. Dark Cloud has a MetaCritic score of 80, but if you ask me, it deserves a 90.
Dark Cloud is an action-RPG that has been likened to Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and for good reason. Most gamers who have played Ocarina of Time will agree that it was an amazing game and worthy of Classic status. Dark Cloud capitalizes on many of the gameplay mechanics that made Ocarina of Time so good – and it takes those mechanics even further. The major difference between Dark Cloud and traditional RPGs is that the playable characters do not level up. Instead, weapons can be upgraded and “leveled.”
Dark Cloud 2 (or Dark Chronicle) was released in 2003 to widespread critical acclaim. The sequel has a MetaCritic score of 87, placing it higher than the original. There are few game series in which the sequel is rated higher than the original. Sadly, there hasn’t been a Dark Cloud 3.
What Made Dark Cloud Great
The weapon system in Dark Cloud is hand down the best part of the game. Items attached to a weapon when it levels up are integrated into the weapon itself, along with their stat boosts. Once a weapon reaches a certain level, it can be reduced to an attachable item and plastered onto another weapon. Thus, you can combine the power and abilities of different weapons. The system is easy to use and addicting.
The second best part of Dark Cloud is the city-building aspect. That’s right. Take Ocarina of Time and mash it up with SimCity and you’ll get something that resembles Dark Cloud. OK, not really. No self-respecting Sim would ever allow a Zora to roam the streets of “Destroythiscity.” Seriously, though, the city-building aspects of Dark Cloud are smart and uniquely implemented. I don’t want to give away storyline, in case you haven’t played it (you poor creature). Essentially, each town you come across must be rebuilt and you can structure it however you like. Residents of the town have preferences though. If you satisfy the residents’ ideal view of their town, they’ll reward you with something good.
While Dark Cloud’s combat and dungeons have been criticized as being repetitive and, perhaps, boorish, I would argue that the Level 5 team did a great job of making dungeon crawling interesting. Each character in the game has a thirst meter. When a particular character’s thirst meter is drained, health starts to drop. Your characters can literally die of thirst in Dark Cloud. Every action within a dungeon will drain the thirst meter. You can increase the size of the thirst meter and your health by finding and using certain items. You can also restore the thirst meter at watering holes found on ever floor of a dungeon. The thirst meter adds an element of risk to dungeon exploration – especially early on in the game.
What the Next Iteration Could Use
Honestly, at this point, I’d just be happy to see a Dark Cloud 3 on a current gen console (actually, I’d love it on PC, but that’s not likely to happen). Level 5 has done a lot of wonderful things with the Dark Cloud series and I fervently hope that they’ll continue to do those wonderful things.
Well, maybe there is one bone to pick. I know it might be asking too much, but I would love to see a more refined soundtrack. Don’t get me wrong, the soundtracks for DarkCloud1 and 2 are good – they’re just not excellent. I would love to see Final Fantasy (excluding the latest iteration of the series) and Chrono Trigger/Cross quality music in Dark Cloud 3.
Realistic Possibility of Return?
Level 5 has expressed some interest in continuing the series, but obviously, it isn’t a priority. A YouTube video posted in March of 2010 contains an interview with Akihiro Hino, the main man at Level 5. The video gives me hope that Level 5 is seriously considering Dark Cloud 3; however, the length of time without any news whatsoever on another sequel (about 2 years) isn’t encouraging. Dark Cloud 3 may be a possibility, but we might be looking at the next generation of consoles.